Five farmers and a businessman, aged between 35 to 49 years, are being tried before the Paro dzongkhag court for smuggling 22kg of gold biscuits amounting to Nu 62.229 million (M) into the country from the northern border of Phari in Tibet.
While filing the case individually for six accused before the Paro court on October 11, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) pleaded the court to deal as per the charges filed against them.
The state prosecutor charged Namgyal Dorji, 45, and Jangchub Nima, 35, both farmers from Tsento gewog, for gold smuggling and solicitation.
Of the 22kg gold biscuits (24K), Namgyal Dorji and Jangchub Nima smuggled out and sold 6kg to an Indian man based in Jaigaon, India, last year. In monetary terms, the 6kg of gold is worth Nu 16.971M based on the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) rate of Nu 2,838.61 a gram.
The duo was also charged for criminal solicitation since they conspired and sent Chencho Dorji, 43, and Kencho Dorji, 36, to import 22 gold biscuits from a Tibetan based in Phari in April 2018. They agreed to pay Nu 20,000 each as carrying charge. Both Chencho Dorji and Kencho Dorji are farmers from Tsento and charged for smuggling.
OAG also charged farmer Changlo, 49, of Wangchang and businessman Kinga Norbu, 41, of Lamgong for smuggling out and selling 12kg gold worth Nu 33.943M to the Indian in Jaigaon.
The prosecutor pleaded the court to convict them as per the Bhutan Penal Code. Gold smuggling is graded a third-degree felony with a prison term ranging from five to nine years and the offence is graded as value-based sentencing. The defendants, who are guilty of the offence of criminal solicitation, are liable to half the penalty awarded to the person convicted for third-degree felony.
The case background
Paro police received a tip-off around 9.30am on April 13 this year stating that Namgyal Dorji and Jangchub Nima hired and sent Chencho Dorji and Kencho Dorji to bring in 22kg gold from Phari. Police then arrested Namgyal Dorji, Chencho Dorji and Kencho Dorji from Paro on the same day while Jangchub Nima, Changlo and Kinga Norbu were apprehended the next day.
Police investigation revealed that Namgyal Dorji, Jangchub Nima, Changlo and Kinga Norbu were jointly doing business in 2016, during which they met with an Indian and became friends.
In 2017, the four accused conspired to do a gold business with their Indian counterpart. They mobilised Nu 500,000 each and paid Nu 2M to the Indian as a security deposit for smuggling gold.
The four accused agreed that Namgyal Dorji and Jangchub Nima would import gold from Phari to Tsento and from where Changlo and Kinga Norbu would hand over the smuggled gold to the Indian man in Jaigaon.
The Indian man also contacted Kinga Norbu through WeChat and promised him to pay Nu 20,000 for each gold biscuits as commission if their conspiracy works out as planned. Kinga Norbu then informed the trio about the conspiracy.
Following their discussion, they hired and sent Chencho Dorji and Kencho Dorji to import the gold from Tibet. The duo was returning home carrying 11kg gold biscuits each and encountered with RBA patrolling team based in Gunitsawa at Gangcheyla. The duo fled the scene leaving 5kg gold each behind. The RBA team seized 10kg gold but they could not apprehend the smugglers, according to the police’s investigation report submitted to the OAG.
Chencho Dorji and Kencho Dorji, however, called Namgyal Dorji through mobile phone and informed that they left behind 16kg gold in Gangcheyla when they escaped from the RBA team. The duo handed over only 6kg gold to Namgyal Dorji after he came to pick them from Lemdo. Namgyal Dorji handed over the 6kg gold to Jangchub Nima, who then handed over to Changlo and Kinga Norbu. The duo then handed over the gold to the Indian man.
However, the Indian refused to pay the security amount of Nu 2M deposited with him and commission for smuggling gold saying that he would pay only after the investigation on seized gold is completed.
A few weeks later, the four accused knew that Chencho Dorji and Kencho Dorji lied to them. The duo was compelled to hand over the remaining 6kg gold to them. They handed over the gold to the Indian, who then returned their security money withheld by him.
The four paid Nu 100,000 each to Chencho Dorji and Kencho Dorji as commission.
According to Customs Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017, gold and silver in the form of coins, bars or bullion including jewellery in excess of the quantity mentioned -50grammes, shall require permit from the relevant agency and is subject to levy of customs duty.
Any import or export of gold or silver coins, bars or bullion, shall be carried out only with the prior approval of the RMA, according to the Foreign Exchange Regulations, 2013.